Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Arnhemse Meisjes

Let’s celebrate two years of A Serious Bunburyist with a biscuit. Last year I featured a recipe for Cream of Celery Soup (here) from Simon Hopkinson’s Second Helpings of Roast Chicken [2001]. Hopkinson’s book contains an eclectic collection of recipes that he amassed over the years. One of these recipes is for Arnhem Biscuits or Arnhemse Meisjes from Roald Dahl’s Memories with Food at Gipsy House [1991] (republished in 1996 and 2012 as the Roald Dahl’s Cookbook). Hopkinson describes Arnhemse Meisjes as “quite wonderful”. Dahl waxed slightly more lyrical about the Dutch cookies: “They were simply marvelous. I cannot quite tell you why, but everything about them, the crispness, the flavour, the way they melted away down your throat made it so you couldn’t stop eating them.”

Are Arnhemse Meisjes the best biscuits in the world? Dahl thought so. Coming from the author that penned some of the most glorious and tantalizing descriptions of food in all of children’s literature, this is high praise indeed. How did the recipe fall into Dahl’s hands? He writes that after tasting the biscuit at a book signing in the Dutch city of Arnhem, he requested and received the recipe from Albert Hagdorn, the baker that developed the cookie. Happily, Dahl decided to include Arnhemse Meisjes in his cookbook. The recipe makes about 35-40 biscuits. The asides are Dahl’s.
  • 190 gr plain flour
  • 100 gr milk
  • 4 drops lemon juice (more later if necessary)
  • 5 gr fresh yeast
  • 105 gr unsalted butter (divided equally into 5 pieces of 21 gr each)
  • a pinch of salt, only if using unsalted butter
  • rock sugar is used instead of a floured surface (I used sugar cubes that I lightly crush with a rolling pin)

1. Mix together the flour, milk, lemon juice and yeast, adding a pinch of salt if necessary.

2. With an electric beater on high speed, beat 1 piece of butter into the mixture for about 2 minutes. Continue in the same way for the remaining butter pieces.

3. Wrap the dough in cling film and refrigerate overnight so that it is easier to handle.

4. Preheat the oven to 275°F / 140°C / Gas Mark 1 and line your baking sheet with non-stick baking paper.

5. Dredge your rolling surface with the crushed sugar cubes (rock sugar), then roll out the dough over the sugar, sprinkling it with some more crushed sugar and continue to roll until very thin.

6. With a biscuit cutter, cut out the dough. (Ovals are the traditional shape.)

7. Place the biscuits on the lined baking sheets and sprinkle with more crushed sugar.

8. Bake for 30-45 minutes or until crisp and lightly golden.

Some notes and thoughts.  A standing mixer equipped with a paddle takes the work out of making this dough, which resembles a smooth taffy.  Rolling this dough isn’t too tricky if you work quickly. I aim for a finished thickness of about 1/8 of an inch. This produces an extremely crisp yet flakey cookie.

And while we are on the subject of crispness, Hopkinson provides a helpful bit of advice: “I noticed that when the biscuits had turned ‘slightly golden’ they were not exactly ‘crisp’. But then this is the case with all biscuits: they do not fully crisp up until left to cool. I only point this out so that you do not feel tempted to cook further (to a darker colour, which ruins them) just so that they turn crisp while still in the oven.”

Roald Dahl and Simon Hopkinson have authored similar yet remarkably individualist cookbooks. Their books present a diverse collection of favorite and meaningful recipes inspired by each author’s palate and memories. As I look back on the recipes featured during this site’s short two year run, it seems to me that A Serious Bunburyist—more by happenstance than design—isn’t too far off the Dahl and Hopkinson model: a varied and idiosyncratic selection of recipes that that hold a strong personal allure. So until my dear, invalid friend Bunbury explodes, more of the same to come.